Declan Rice is a fast-rising prospect that has been on many lips in the past few months. The 20-year-old’s regular appearances for West Ham and England have seen him linked to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in the last 12 months. While he may not command the reputation a Mason Mount or a Phil Foden can boast of (because of his club), the young lad seems to be improving with each game-week and it’s high time we pay attention to just how good he has been.
The young English international is not just doing it at a high level, he is showing maturity in one of the most important areas of the pitch – and he is one of the main reasons leading bookmakers like bettingsider24.com are shortening the average odds on West Ham qualifying for Europe this season from 12/1 to 6/1.
No central midfielder in the Premier League has made more tackles than Rice this season (Premier League) and only three have made more interceptions. The only other man to rank among the top 10 in both metrics is Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi – but Rice has been far tidier in his use of the ball with a pass completion rate of 89.5% that is even ahead of Liverpool’s Fabinho.
Indeed, among the 34 players (Premier League) to have made a dozen or more tackles in the Premier League this season, only Manchester City’s Rodri has a better passing accuracy than the West Ham midfielder (Whoscored). That is the company he is keeping. That is the standard to which he aspires. It has sparked a debate lately about just how good he could become.
“If I were a top-four team and I was looking for a player in that position, I would have Declan Rice as that holding midfield player,” Jamie Carragher told Monday Night Football sometime last month. “I would not pay £90m for him but if it was £50m he could do a job in a Champions League team.”
Is this even his best position?
During Rice’s breakthrough season at West Ham under David Moyes, he was used with some success as a centre-back. It was only when Manuel Pellegrini took charge last season that he switched to his favoured role in midfield. As a result, there were question marks right from the start about whether Rice had the quality to be a top-level midfielder.
It’s easy to be sceptical in terms of seeing a player go from centre-back into central midfield and then wondering to what they are going to become eventually.
That scepticism is understandable given English football’s history of pushing defenders into midfield. Gareth Southgate infamously appeared there in England’s defeat to Germany in the final game at the old Wembley. Eric Dier, the man Rice has replaced in England’s midfield, began his Tottenham career in defence. Carragher himself started out there.
While it is tempting to bracket Rice among this group, it is not an accurate reflection of his passing ability. Holding midfielders are often accused of being too safe with their passing and there is no doubt that much of Rice’s use of the ball is designed to circulate possession rather than speed up the attack, but he is capable of penetrating the lines too. Only Rodri has a better success rate than him with his long passing in the Premier League this season.
The mention of Rodri, a £62.8m club-record signing for Manchester City, and Fabinho, already a Champions League-winning midfielder with Liverpool, highlights the standards that are being set in the Premier League right now. It will not be easy for Rice to reach that level.
Perhaps the most important thing to note regarding Rice is his age. He is the third-youngest player to have started all of his team’s Premier League games this season with a total of 720 minutes from a possible 720 (Premier League). Much more minutes than Arsenal’s Mateo Guendouzi who has earned a lot of praise so far and was recently nominated for the Golden Boy award. It is likely to boost his confidence to accelerate the development of an already hugely promising young player.
Rice is a 20-year-old English prospect who is starting week-in-week-out for an exciting Premier League team. As expected, transfer speculation over his future have come up a few times lately and we can expect it to intensify over the coming months.
It’s not surprising that West Ham haven’t bothered about stating his valuation, considering he recently put pen to paper on a new long-term contract and still has five more years to go. The question of how much he is worth right now is a topic for another day.
If he continues his form under Manuel Pellegrini, you could potentially see him completing a big-money move away from the London Stadium in the future…
Albeit, he’s very settled in East London at the moment and you’d expect that to be the case for the foreseeable future.